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John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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  • Shadow over Asia

    This week we look over the Pacific pond to China and Japan, in an interview with my friend Vitaliy Katsenelson by David Galland, who is the managing editor of The Casey Report. Vitaliy is the chief investment officer of Investment Management Associates, Inc., and author of Active Value Investing. Profiled in Barron’s in September 2009, Vitaliy, who was born in Murmansk, Russia, and moved to the U.S. in 1991, is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Colorado at Denver’s Graduate School of Business.

    Long time readers know that I just don’t get China or Japan. I think both are bubbles, but as Vitaliy notes, many bubbles can outlast the reputations of those predicting their demise. Timing is everything.

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  • February Economic Report

    Before we get to this week's Outside the Box, a quick note about my writing on Greece in last Saturday's letter. I made the point that if Greece defaults it does not necessarily mean they have to leave the EU, any more than if Illinois defaulted they would have to leave the United States. Greece could still use the euro and life could go on. EXCEPT. The markets would no longer lend the Greek government money at anything close to a livable rate. Greece would be forced to balance its budget. Since they are part of the euro, devaluing the currency is not an option. The results of controlling their fiscal deficit would not initially be pretty and would almost insure a serious prolonged recession or depression in the Greek area, with fall out in the region. It would be a sad decade for Greece. But in the long run, it is a better option than default.

    Further, and more important to the rest of Europe and the world, the results of a Greek default would be financial turmoil. 250 billion euros (and maybe 300!) of Greek debt is in international bond funds, pension and insurance companies, and above all at banks. Think German banks. Already undercapitalized banks. Also, think of all the investment banks who have been selling relatively cheap (given the apparent risk) credit default swaps on Greece, in an unregulated market, exposing their balance sheets. What should be a simple, if sad, matter for the Greeks, becomes a problem for the world, just as subprime debt in the US caused a world credit crisis. And the risk of contagion from Portugal, Spain, et al is serious. 2 trillion euros of debt could get downgraded by the bond market in very short order. It could be a replay of the last credit crisis, just with new actors as the prime problem....
  • The China Files (Special Project): Real Estate

    Today I offer you an insightful look at China's real estate market - a 'burgeoning bubble' that deserves a close eye as the possibility for breaking increases. Remember the chaos in Japan after their own housing dreamscape got violently yanked back to earth? As investors, we have to recognize opportunities - and know what to avoid. With a global economic crisis - and now surging housing prices in China - investors in any global market need to keep watch on political and economic developments around the world.

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  • The Geography of Recession

    One of the first things you learn about analyzing a company is how to dissect a balance sheet. What assets and liabilities can be deployed by a company to create equity over time? I've enclosed a fascinating variant on this process. Take a look at how STRATFOR has analyzed the "geographic balance sheets" of the US, Russia, China, and Europe to understand why different countries' economies have suffered to varying degrees from the current economic crisis.

    As investors, it's precisely this type of outside-the-box thinking that can provide us profitable opportunities, and it's precisely this type of outside-the-box thinking that makes STRATFOR such an important part of my investment decision making. The key to investment profits is thinking differently and thinking earlier than the next guy. STRATFOR's work exemplifies both these traits....
  • China: Exports Drop

    When I read the headline, 'China: Exports Drop,' plastic toys, cheap sneakers and milk scandals come to mind. But the impact of China's financial health is more far-reaching than simply affecting the Wal-Mart consumer; China matters on a global investing stage. So that's why I don't just read headlines; I read STRATFOR. My friend George Friedman's team of analysts will take the numbers and explain to me what they mean and how they impact the country, without bias or partisanship. They don't make value judgments, they outline the full financial picture so I can make my own. Understanding China is critical to anyone with investments. In the following piece, STRATFOR graphically presents the decline in exports in a historical context, and outlines other critical measurements in the Chinese economy -- giving me the frame of reference I need. I highly recommend that you start reading STRATFOR for this kind of focused analysis....
  • Geithner, China, and the Specter of Technical Insolvency

    This week I bring you two different articles as an offering for Outside the Box. As a way to introduce the first, let me give you the quote from Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg about the rising threat of global trade protectionism: 'The Financial Times weighs in on the rising threat of global trade protectionism in today's Lex Column on page 14 ('Economic Patriotism'). The FT points out that the stimulus packages of many countries include 'buy local' provisions. At home, there is a proposed inclusion of a 'Buy American' provision in the economic recovery package and this could set off trade retaliation from importers of US goods. Here is what the FT had to say, 'It was trade protectionism that made the 1930s Depression 'Great'. Congress would do well to understand that it is in everyone's interest to keep trade open today.' I have long written that the one thing that could derail my Muddle Through (at least eventually) view point is a return to trade protectionism. Nothing could be more devastating to the hopes of a recovery. Nothing could more surely turn a recession into a depression, and a global one at that....
  • On G-20 and GM: Economics, Politics and Social Stability

    The Big Three have a new customer, and it isn't you. As Detroit's former heavyweights fight for a slice of a $25 billion bailout package, more than humble pie is being eaten. If the automakers fail and take their companies into bankruptcy, Michigan as we know it ceases to exist economically. The trickle-down impact could rapidly become a waterfall: the seat supplier in Georgia loses three major customers. The factory worker who makes seats is out of a job. The bank who holds his mortgage takes another hickey. Commercial lending at that bank dries up. Ad nauseum. In the best of economic times, this would be a troublesome scenario. In today's economy, it's easy to see how policymakers are as worried about social stability as they are economics. No astute person thinks that the Big Three will be able to return to the business practices of last year. And no intelligent investor should be trying to evaluate portfolio decisions the same way this year either. We have moved from the realm of finance to political economy, and for that you need a different set of tools and a different mindset....
  • The Geopolitics Of China

    No matter where in the world I am, in South Africa, in Europe, in La Jolla, there's one question I get asked over and over, "What about China?" And small wonder. The increasing impact of China in the last generation is just staggering and seemingly accelerating every day. If you're in the market for oil, minerals, arable land, equities or debt, you're bidding against Chinese government-sponsored entities with a $1 trillion warchest. And the list of markets where China is a key player grows every day. Bottom line: whether you're filling up your gas tank or trading credit default swaps, China's decisions impact your pocket book....
  • MACRO-MARKETS: Gold Trading Boot Camp

    Introduction I probably get as many questions about gold as I do any subject. The fascination with the yellow metal permeates all levels of investors, and opinions can be quite strong. But few are more informed than those of good friend and trader extraordinaire...
  • China's Engineered Drop

    Introduction With Tuesday's market correction being the single biggest decline in the U.S. markets since 9/11, all eyes are focused on figuring out what exactly happened as well as what is going to happen next. This week's Special Edition of Outside...
  • Global Transitions

    Introduction With a new year just weeks away, investors are weighing expectations and asking questions about what lies ahead. Each year presents its own set of opportunities and challenges, especially in are ever-increasing global economy. Today's...